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Yunalis Zarai—known by her stage name, Yuna—is an independent singer-songwriter equally at home in her native Malaysia and on stage in the United States where she has performed twice at South by Southwest, the country’s biggest independent music festival, as well as at venues in New York and Chicago. She was recently signed to New York-based FADERLabel, home to recording artists Matt & Kim and Neon Indian among others.
Those describing her sound focus on her unique vocal talent. Sara Elghobashy of Elan, an online guide to global Muslim culture, speaks of Yuna’s “sweet sound” that “captures raw emotion” while an official press release from Yuna’s label highlights her “uniquely exquisite” voice and her “true talent that is beyond compare”. Singing isn’t all she does, though. She picked up the guitar at nineteen while in law school and in the half-decade since, has combined voice and strings in ways that have earned her fans the world over.
In an interview with Elan, Yuna describes her songs as ranging from “very, very happy” to having a “darker element”. In the former category is her song “Random Awesome”, a celebration of puppy love. “And I smile, I love, no,/I laugh happier somehow”, she sings, expressing the giddy confusion of a new relationship. On the flip side, in “Deeper Conversation” she addresses a longing for honesty and connection singing, “I’ve let my guard down for you /And in time you will too”.
On her own, Yuna released her self-titled first EP in 2008, attracting attention with the Malay language track “Dan Sebenarnya”. She was first runner-up at the Anugerah Juara Lagu competition in 2009 and won Best Pop Song (for “Dan Sebenarnya”) and Best Local English Song (for “Deeper Conversation”) the following year at the 17th Annual Malaysian Music Industry Awards. Soon thereafter she released Decorate, which was re-released with five of the original ten tracks by FADERLabel in the United States in March 2011.